John Thompson was a black man who lived in slavery for all of his early life. He escaped when he was in his twenties, so he saw and knew the entire system. This adds interest into his autobiography and it excites the sympathy of the reader.
He grew up surrounded by hardship. His sister was sold when he was very young. He describes how sad his mother was. It is a touching scene.
He described the beatings and whippings that took place almost daily, depending on the master. He got whipped a few times. His mother got whipped. His father got whipped. His descriptions are vividly horrific. If it truly was like that, I can understand why the Civil War was fought.
He learned to read when he was a young boy. He carried the books of a white boy to school, and the white boy taught him how to read and write. This later proved both useful and life-threatening.
When he was in his late teens he gained the respect of most of his masters because he stood up for himself. He was proud and fearless, and preferred to die rather than be whipped. According to some, he was the most troublesome slave they had ever owned. According to others, he was the best.
He escaped the slave system after getting into trouble with one master’s daughters. He used to meet them, and the master didn’t like him courting them, so Thompson was arrested and whipped. He left that master and escaped shortly after that.
He was a deeply spiritual man. He believed deeply that God guided his footsteps, and from what he says of the little (and big) miracles that took place, I am inclined to believe that he really was watched over by a hand that was not earthly.
When he reached a free state, he got into bad company and fell out of religion for a while. He said that he fell sick, and realized that this kind of lifestyle was destroying his life. He re-embraced the Methodist faith soon after.
He married, but left his wife to go on a whaling vessel in the Atlantic. His descriptions of the manner in which the whales were caught are sometimes tedious, but rather interesting at the same time.
He was in good favor with the captain on account of his honesty, his faith and his willingness to learn. He stayed on the ship for some months, and proved himself a worthy sailor, even helping to bring down a few whales.
He was a very spiritual man, as were most of the blacks of that era. He was a slave, and then he was a free man. In his autobiography he states that he believed God effected this transition.
The book is very well written. He both wrote and edited it, and it is hard to believe that a man who had had no formal schooling could write so well. He had a real natural talent. He keeps you turning the page. You want to go, but you are torn between finding out what happens, and leaving the book. That is not a gift to be despised.